I’ve been keeping a low profile for the last two weeks as I’ve returned to Burma to view firsthand what many are calling ethnic cleansing. But I can’t stay silent anymore — I am watching a tragedy unfold that is threatening the lives of tens of thousands of the most persecuted people on earth — the Rohingya ethnic minority in Rakhine State.
Late last week, the government of Burma forced the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate organization, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), to close the doors to their clinics across the country. We responded by blasting the government publicly here in Rangoon, calling on governments with influence on the regime to apply immediate and forceful pressure. They did and soon arrangements were being made for MSF to reopen their clinics in all areas of the country — EXCEPT in the areas where the Rohingya live — precisely where the need is the greatest.
Why? MFS was found guilty of telling the truth about attacks against the Rohingya that killed at least 40 innocent people and sent dozens more for treatment at MFS’s clinics. For this, the lives of tens of thousands of desperate Rohingya — effectively imprisoned in what they aptly describe as “concentration camps” — are now at risk.
For many of the sickest patients, Doctors Without Borders offers the best and sometimes only care, because traveling outside the camps for treatment in local Buddhist-run hospitals can be dangerous and costly.
Three days ago, I headed to several of these camps and visited clinics serving AIDS patients who are alive because of medication from MSF. It was a heartbreaking experience that exposed the Burmese government’s decision to deny life saving care for what it is — part of a plan of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
Ei Ei, 32, sat beside her one-and-a-half year old daughter Nadi who slept as we talked. Ei Ei, her daughter and her husband all have AIDS and all depend on the treatment that they receive from MSF.
“If MSF stops distributing the medicine, the whole family will not survive,” she said. Her husband has one week’s worth of medicine left, she has a two month supply and Nadi has three. We cannot get the medicine from anywhere else.”
Unfortunately, most are afraid to speak out against this horror. The pressure against voices of opposition is intense here. Even those who are considered champions of human rights in the Parliament, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have been silent.
I’m doing what I can here to help Doctors Without Borders open their doors again. I’ve met with U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell travelled to the capital Naypyidaw to sit down with a dozen parliamentarians, met with those who work within the government, including the President’s office, engaged reporters and collaborated with advocates who are working against incredible odds.
Next week I return to the United States where we will continue these efforts & look to you for help, from Capitol Hill, to the State Department, to the United Nations. We will raise our voices and do whatever we can to save tens of thousands of lives. At the very least, the Rohingya victims who are now in the cross-hairs of this horror are not alone — we stand with them.